Sick day

Looks as if this weekend’s festivities proved too much for my delicate constitution.  I woke this morning sick 😦

Stuck in bed with only Mr. Ramses for company, I’m taking advantage of the imposed quiet time to catch up on all the work I’ve been ignoring the last few days.

8 (of 20) research papers remain to be graded for my Ancient Mesoamerica class.  Final grades need calculating.  I may spend some time with the book I received at our holiday party yesterday (“How Soccer Explains the World”).  And, of course, progress on the second draft of ABSENT must be made.

While I’ve been actively pretending the papers in need of grading do not exist, I’ve made good strides on the novel draft.  I’ve revised the first third of the book quite thoroughly and am generally really pleased with the results.  I dive now into the treacherous, ever-shifting ground of the novel’s dreaded middle when the characters find themselves marooned in Ice Age Wyoming.

I’d best get done what I can today, as tomorrow looms the dreaded final exam in my World Prehistory class.  I’ll then have 80 exams to grade and likely little time to write till they’re done.  Then it’s off to Seattle for the holidays with family and then to the Napa Valley for a long overdue vacation with the hubs.

What are you up to as the days of December dwindle?  How will you be spending the last minutes and hours of 2011?

Writer’s Workspace: 12/12

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  now that the semester is nearly over, I’m beginning to find a bit more time to write.  Two things are on the table at the moment:  the ongoing revisions to the 2nd draft of ABSENT and outlining for my next novel, tentatively titled TROLL UNDER THE BRIDGE.  It’s exciting to be emerging from under the pile of lectures, exams, and papers and starting to refocus on my writing.  Here’s an excerpt from ABSENT for your reading pleasure:

Snippet from the screen: “Nick hunched at his desk.  A half-eaten egg-and-cheese congealed nearby in its wrapper.  It was late on Tuesday afternoon; late enough that the streets outside the precinct would be painted with long, reaching shadows; late enough that Happy Hour couldn’t be far off.  Nick glared at the burned, acid-smelling cup of coffee stagnating in his fist and considered how much better a shot of whiskey would taste.”

On the iTunes: Okay, admitting this is admitting that I (occasionally) watch Glee…but I really like their recent re-imagining of the 80’s classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.  It’s slow and mournful and really like a whole new song.  I’ve been playing it a lot, I confess.

In my mug: Numi Organic Breakfast.

Keeping me company:  Since there is construction going on in the apartment upstairs from ours, Mr. Ramses has spent most of his time hiding in dark corners and shooting truly pitiful looks at anyone who happens to stumble upon him.  So, no company for me today.  The construction is loud and distracting, but the upshot is that the building developer is letting me use an unsold, staged apartment in another building as a hide-out while the work is going on.  It’s cool – kind of like squatting, but in a really fancy house.  Best of all, because the units aren’t sold yet, there’s no internet to distract me.  In fact…I think maybe I’d better head over there right now 😉

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  before I go, I have two links to share.  First off, the New York Times posted an article yesterday about these amazing photographs by French photographer Cédric Delsaux.  They portray industrial landscapes with a post-apocalyptic feel superimposed with images from Star Wars.  So Cool.  In a more writerly/readerly vein, check out my friend Cath’s list of her favorite books of 2011.

Okay.  Miranda Out.

Food for Thought: Homemade Pizza

Second in my “food for thought” series, I offer a recipe and instructions (that even the most timid cook can follow) to prepare delicious homemade pizza.  For this recipe, the dough (though easy to assemble) takes an hour to rise  —  the perfect amount of time for a quick session of writing or editing!


serves 2 (recipe can be easily doubled or trebled). allow 2 hours for start to finish preparation

The first thing to do is make your dough.

Everyone seems so intimidated by the idea of making homemade pizza dough, but its honestly incredibly easy.

Step 1: preheat your oven about as high as it will go – 475 is good.  If you have a pizza stone, be sure it’s in the oven heating up too.  You want the oven preheating for at least an hour to get good and hot.

Step 2: get out a nice, large mixing bowl and put 1/2 cup of hot water in it.  Sprinkle 1/2 a package of active dry yeast onto the water and let it sit until dissolved (a few minutes).  Swirl to incorporate the yeast and water.  Then add 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 cup flour, and 1 tbs olive oil.  Using a large, wooden spatula (or other favorite stirring device), stir these ingredients until wet, shiny, and smooth.  Gradually incorporate another 1 cup of flour.  The mixture should grow denser but still remain sticky and pliable.  Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and kneed 2-3 minutes, adding additional flour as needed to keep the mass of dough soft and stretchy.

Spill a bit more olive oil back into your dirty mixing bowl, drop in the ball of dough, turning to coat, then cover it up with a towel and leave it in a warm spot (perhaps near your preheating oven) for 1 hour to rise.

While the dough is rising, go write!

Step 3: peek at the dough.  It should have doubled in size.  Punch it down and give it a few turns on the floured work surface to get it pliable again.  Get out a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle it with a little flour, and roll the dough out on top of the parchment.  I like to curl the edges of the dough up a bit so the sauce doesn’t run out.  Easy!  Now you’re ready for toppings. 

Step 4: Sauce.  You can buy pre-made pizza sauce.  It’s fine.  You can also make your own very easily.  Run open a can of tomato sauce and pour it into a saucepot (I like to do this while the dough is rising).  Add some olive oil, salt, a tsp of sugar, and assorted dried herbs: oregano, basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper.  Stir it up over medium heat.  Taste it.  Adjust to your liking.  Boom.  Done.

Spoon sauce onto the rolled dough and spread it around with the back of a spoon.  I like a thin but not pathetic coating.  If you like a lot of sauce, then put on a lot of sauce.  It’s your pizza!

Step 5: Toppings.  Okay, gospel from me to you:  buffalo mozzarella.  Use this stuff.  It’s like a present from god, I swear.  Way better than regular mozzarella (though the later will certainly work if you can’t get your hands on buffalo mozzarella).  Slice off some pieces of the mozzarella (you’ll need about 1 large ball per pizza) and space them out across the dough (they’ll expand a little as they melt).  As for the rest of the toppings, the sky is the limit.

My favorite combination is Speck (smoked prosciutto), little dribs of pesto, and caramelized onions (for the latter, save a bit of the reduced onions from your French Onion Soup preparations).  Artichoke hearts and goat cheese are a nice combination.  So are spicy Italian sausage crumbles and onions (and red pepper!).  When you’ve finished topping the pizza, be sure to grate a layer of fresh Parmesan cheese on top, sprinkle with kosher salt, fresh thyme leaves, and grind with fresh pepper.

Step 6: Baking.  If you’re using a pizza stone, you’ll need a pizza peel to transfer the pizza on parchment into the oven.  These items might seem like expensive, specialty goods…but once you become addicted to making pizza, you’ll want to do it all the time and having a stone & peel will be a good investment. 

While a pizza stone is the best way to end up with a crispy crust, if you don’t own one, you can use a regular pizza pan or cookie sheet just as well.  Carefully slide the parchment onto the pizza pan/sheet and put it in the oven.  You should cook the pizza at a very hot temperature (at least 400, 475 is better) for 14-16 minutes to allow the crust to get crispy and everything on top to get bubbling and awesome.

You can eat the pizza with a salad, but really…pizza stands alone in its awesomeness and needs no accompaniment.

Bon Appetit – and please let me know if you try the recipe!

Where are the brakes on this thing?

Once, when I was little, I was involved in a Go-Cart accident.  We got going too fast and careened unstoppable down a cement driveway towards the bed of a parked pickup truck–one just the right height for decapitating foolish children.  The cart flipped over at the last minute, leaving us bruised and scraped but otherwise with heads still firmly afixed to our bodies.

The tale, of course, has grown over time — grander, more dramatic, gorier — but, in truth, all I really remember was a sense of helplessness as I realized the brakes weren’t working and a bracing, jittery wave of adrenaline sweeping all my fear away.

That’s a pretty good way to describe the last few weeks of the semester, too.  Go-Cart.  No brakes.  A stew of helplessness and adrenaline.

One week of classes remains, including only one more unfinished lecture (thank every god in every pantheon in all the world!).  Then I’ve got 80 final exams and 20 final papers to grade.  And then I can get out the BandAids (aka a big cup of spiked eggnog) and patch up.

It’s been a pretty nutso few months, and my writing (as well as my poor, sad blog) has suffered.  In a way, though, the compression of writing time I’ve experienced this semester has helped my focus.  When I do have a few minutes or (gasp!) an hour to devote to writing, I find I’m really zooming in, working on specific chapters and passages in a very detailed, thoughtful way.  Word count has remained low, but I think what I’m producing is better overall.

Once the semester ends, though, I want to overhaul my writing practices to maximize for both productivity and quality.  I recently read a post from Rachel Aaron’s “Pretentious Title” blog that had a couple of really interesting suggestions for techniques to increase output – ways to work both faster and smarter.

In short, they include brief planning sessions before sitting down to write each day (know what you’re going to write, specifically rather than generally, before you begin), tracking your writing (when, how much, what, where, output) for a few weeks to learn when and how you write best, and finding enthusiasm for everything you write (not just the best bits) by honing in on “boring” sections and excising or transforming them.  I plan to implement her suggestions in a few weeks and will be sure to report back in the new year.

So, that’s what’s going on in Miranda-landia.  What about you, dear Reader?  Busy?  Relaxed?  Productive as an bee in a hive or currently hibernating?  Share your doings in the comments, please!